Did you know that Arkansas is THIRD in our nation in the number of inland waterway miles? Arkansas is one of only 24 states in the United States to have the unique resource of inland waterways.
For more information on each of Arkansas’ navigable rivers, click the links below.
The Mississippi River forms the eastern border of the state. This mighty river is the main trade corridor for goods produced in the northern part of the U.S. traveling to gateway ports near the Gulf of Mexico.
The Arkansas, Ouachita, Red and White Rivers are also important transportation routes serving Arkansas. As trade between the U.S. and Latin America grows, the importance of Arkansas waterways and the strategic location of the state will enhance manufacturing and distribution opportunities. Arkansas enjoys one of the largest inventories of navigable waterways in the nation with 1000 miles along five rivers.
MKARNS (McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System)
The MKARNS provides navigation through Arkansas to Catoosa, Oklahoma, near Tulsa. In 2015, the MKARNS received the designation of Marine Highway 40 (M-40) through the US Department of Transportation's Maritime Administration (MARAD) America's Highway Program. 308 miles of channel are located in Arkansas and public ports are located at Pine Bluff, Little Rock, and Fort Smith. An estimated $5 billion in private investments have been made on the navigation system since it was opened in 1971.
On December 30, 1970, the Arkansas River navigation project was declared operational.
The largest commercial river in the country forms 320 miles of the eastern border of Arkansas. Approximately 200 million tons of commodities pass by the state on the waterway each year. Public ports in Arkansas are located at Osceola, West Memphis, Helena, West Helena, and Yellow Bend, near McGehee.
The Mississippi River wa the principal outlet for the newly settled are of mid-America in the 19th century.
(Ouachita/Black Navigation System)
The Ouachita River has a 9-foot deep channel to Camden, Arkansas, a distance of 117 miles upstream of the Louisiana state line. Public ports are located at Camden and Crossett. Tetra Technologies depends on the Ouachita/Black Navigation System to move calcium chloride to oil wells in Texas and elsewhere.
The streamer B.L. Hodge traveled the Ouachita River to bring Confederate General Kirby Smith and his staff to Camden durinf the Civil War.This vessel served as a Confederate troop and supply boat for the duration of the War.
(J. Bennett Johnson Waterway)
Currently, the Red River is navigable to Shreveport, Louisiana. A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) study has been done to allow navigation into Arkansas to Index Bridge (between Texarkana and Ashdown, Arkansas). There are also variations calling for navigation to Garland City and Fulton, Arkansas. Each study has a determining cost/benefit ratio; unfortunately, the ratio does not meet the minimum requirement set by USACE.
Navigation is presently available on a seasonal basis with a 9-foot deep channel to Newport, a distance of 255 miles from the Mississippi River. Primary products are agricultural commodities, chemicals, and aggregates. The Memphis District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is currently studying expanding navigation from about 57 percent of the year to 95 percent of the year.
In the late 1800's competition among steamboat captains drove them to offer various prizes to the captain who could bring out the first bale of new cotton each season. Prizes included whiskey and pork.